The country's leading lawyers were paid over €72m in criminal legal aid last year.
People who can’t afford to pay for their own defence in court qualify for taxpayer-funded legal aid.
According to new figures released to Newstalk, the State paid out a total of €72.2 to criminal defence lawyers last year.
It marks an increase of nearly €4m on the previous year, when €68.2m was handed out.
The barrister earning the most through legal aid last year was Senior Counsel Michael Bowman who made just under €564,000.
The second highest-earning barrister was junior counsel Keith Spencer, who got €529,000.
Cork solicitor Frank Buttimer made €435,000 through the scheme last year.
He told Newstalk the legal aid system is an “absolutely necessary” part of our society.
“I think it is critically important to any democratic country that we should have a functioning independent criminal defence justice system,” he said.
“If we didn’t have that, there would not be confidence in the justice system overall and there would then be a lack of confidence in our democracy.
“So, it is an absolutely necessary element of our society that we should have representation for people who are brought before the courts and accused of crimes.”
He said the payments are “not lucrative” after you take into account the expenses facing legal offices – with staff costs, admin and taxation all taking a bite of the cherry.
“The headline figures you are looking at there contain, initially, all of the work that’s done by solicitors, it contains all of the work that is done by their backup staff in their offices, it contains VAT and of course, it contains the taxation that will be paid and retention tax that is paid directly, at source, by solicitors and by barristers,” he said.
“So, the headline figure, believe me, is not lucrative.”
The highest-earning solicitor was John M Quinn, who received over €664,000.